「あ、俺、クラシックバレエ、好きかも」 (A, Ore, Kurashikku Barē, Suki ka mo)
“Oh, I Think I Love Classical Ballet”

I love how elegantly ballet bled into life and life into ballet. While I love the dancing and music of Swan Lake, I always found the characters cardboard-like. The three teenagers finding themselves in their respective roles and growing through them lent a new light to the story.

Traditionally, Rothbart is the villain who exists because they need one but has no reason to be bad in his own right. Luou challenges this with the self-awareness that he is “a mass of hatred that exists for no reason”. Luou aka Rothbart struggle for a reason to exist. Luou pleads “Grandmother, give Rothbart, give me, wings”- taking flight metaphorically and physically with Grandmother’s scarf. Luou, like Rothbart, cannot exist apart from his creator, the one who cursed him to be the outcast.

As always, the dance scene was exquisite. Luou finally dances for himself-leaping in front of the woman who never let him soar. The standing ovation under his mother’s name was painful. Grandmother never recognizes Luou for himself and probably never will given her age and the possibility of dementia. Unfortunately, so long as Miyako serves as a crutch for him, he will not truly learn to find his own meaning in life. Instead, he will replace Grandmother with Miyako as his hand of fate.

I remember when I saw Swan Lake with friends, I commented how the prince was a sad sap because he didn’t put up a fight. I was thrilled how Miyako and Junpei gave a fresh take on this when they passionately battled Luou then watched over him while he finished alone. It’s not that the prince and princess were so lame they couldn’t fight. Part of it was that Rothbart’s animosity was off the charts. Another part of it was that they wanted to watch over Rothbart, to let him win to help him heal from alienation.

I have to say, I disagree with handing someone the win as a form of healing-that’s babying them. It’s a disservice to Luou, letting him win not on his own merits but out of pity. It doesn’t help him dance on his own two feet when others simply make way for him. Yes, emotional support and sensitivity is vital to healing, but that doesn’t mean building your world around their traumas.

As brilliant as this series has been, there were places where like Junpei, they slipped on their footing. Chizuru getting all teary-eyed was way out of character. Up until now, she’s been tough as nails. I can see the toughness being a knee jerk reaction to her own problems when seeing herself in the kids. However, there should have been a better lead up to that emotional crescendo-even a few prior scenes focusing on Chizuru in her own right instead of just a background support.

The ending didn’t sit right with me. They spent the whole series building up the relationships between Junpei and the Godai crew, only to cut off ties. Chizuru pushing Junpei out of the family matter was rather cruel considering how she and Miyako used him to get Luou out of his shell. Junpei just gives up and leaves without a fight-very uncharacteristic for the person who practically dragged Luou into the studio. Where is Junpei’s fighting spirit?

Junpei gave up fighting, which is frankly disappointing. He went from fuming to get Oikawa to recognize him, to bowing to her at the very end, willing to mold himself to her standards. I get it that his passion for ballet is such that he wants to commit 110% to it. Chizuru is lenient on him because she wants to encourage his spirit and Junpei thinks that to become good, he needs to rein that in. I wonder if he knows what he’s signing up for. Junpei is free in expressing himself, which is a good thing-it’s what makes his dancing stand out. I worry that Oikawa will crush that.

Junpei’s dream was to dance in the Bolshoi, but he will have to give that up in committing to Oikawa whose sights are set on Japan. Pursuing classical ballet because he likes it and has no comparison having never tried other forms of ballet is a bit narrow-minded. That’s youth for you, I suppose, getting tunnel vision on one thing and to hell with everything else.

As frustrated as I am with the ending, I recognize the intentionality. This is a modern-day Swan Lake. Since in the original story the prince buckles under Rothbart, Junpei must do the same. Making a present-day Swan Lake gives fresh appreciation to a classic. Yet, it’s also infuriating because it railroads everyone into a particular end even when they outgrow those roles.

I love that Junpei, Miyako, and Luou gave depth to their ballet counterparts, but would have liked to see them go in different directions-to see Junpei fight for his place with the Godais. However, it would no longer be Swan Lake. It is a commentary, in a way, on stories in general. No matter the life characters take in the audience’s minds, they are confined to what the author makes them do. It is their destiny, just as Luou was confined to the role of outcast by his grandmother and the unprincely Junpei cast into the role of prince because he is the MC. It strips any appearance of agency from the characters.

Going through the series’ emotional punches made it hard coming to the finale, where I feel personal impact was lost in railroading the MCs. To be fair, perhaps some of that was due to cramming the story into 11 episodes where there just isn’t enough time for all of the character developments it deserves.

Taking a step back, however, I am in awe at how Swan Lake turned into a living, breathing metaphor for the teenage experience and how masterfully the mangaka kept the ballet’s thread running through it all. The flaws aside, this was a series that got being a teenager right-the ups and downs, the frustrations, the dreams. It gave it to us raw rather than over-idealized (except for the ending). And it did in high class. Junpei with his honesty, his genuineness, was someone I could root for the whole way through and am glad they ended with him happy doing what he loves most.


      1. I’d have to agree on the likelihood (or rather, lack thereof) of a second season. It doesn’t strike me as a mainstream show that would get called back for another cour and I don’t think there’s been as much talk about it as other shows this season. I’m not sure if I’d want a second season anyway if it were to diminish the brilliancy of the first 9 episodes of this series.

        Princess Usagi
  1. My summary of this first season is found in the song, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by The Rolling Stones (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=krxU5Y9lCS8)

    You can’t always get what you want
    You can’t always get what you want
    But if you try sometimes
    Well you just might find
    You get what you need

    Remember that Junpei, Luou and Miyako are young teenagers in middle school. It’s very uncommon in real life for such love relationships at that age to survive from that age to eventual marriage in the twenties and older. They will have opportunities to meet more people and develop more relationships.

    Re: Chizuru tearing up – They have lampshaded it in the previous episode about how she was put down by her mother (Luou’s grandmother) being pro-Russian ballet that even Chizuru ran to Russia to dance there and in wanting to obtain approval. She ran away from the Oikawa Ballet School/Company that it tarnished her relationship with the Oikawa family. That Luou is suffering under that same curse and that he is searching for release resonates with her to her core. Chizuru’s comment to Junpei that it is a family matter sounds uncalled for when Junpei is so involved in it but it reflects Japanese attitudes that matters relating to family stay within the family to resolve. It is also a push to get Junpei to hook up with Oikawa Ballet School.

    This first season covers up to Chapter 51 of the manga. It is up until Chapter 205 now. There’s a long way to go.

    Meanwhile, I will leave 2 images here to show that Junpei and Luou are finding their respective paths in ballet:
    – Junpei: Dancing the male lead, Franz, in the dress rehearsal for Coppelia (Chapter 205) (https://i.imgur.com/pTGO75P.jpg)
    – Luou: Dancing the lead male, Lucien, in Paquita (Chapter 197) (https://i.imgur.com/1REMX7P.jpg)

  2. That point about the Luo-Miyako-Junpei trio is the reason why the whole Luo x Miyako angle never really bothered me until the last few episodes because I figured it was just a childhood crush that would naturally go away-until it blew up into such a huge thing in the finale.

    While they did run through Chizuru’s past somewhat-it was more from a third person perspective and didn’t get much of her own internal monologue in a way that would have better set up her emotional response that came later. Chizuru choking up made sense, but it didn’t feel entirely genuine (on the part of the writing) because of such a superficial set-up.

    It makes sense that Chizuru wouldn’t want to air the family’s dirty laundry in front of Junpei, it’s kind of too late for that with how she and Miyako practically danced it in front of him, in positioning Junpei to coax Luou out of his room. On the part of the writing, it feels like a letdown-bringing those relationships to a dead-end-or even if they don’t ultimately end up that way in the manga, ending the anime in that manner. However, I suppose it is symbolic. Now that Junpei has cast his lot with Oikawa he has effectively become dead to Godai and is no longer one of the Godai inner circle.

    Princess Usagi

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